Friday, July 27, 2012

Niru Gupta’s French Onion Soup

Recently, I went in search of an old favourite.
I began cooking at the age of about 16. As a child, I couldn’t really be bothered by food; I used to be a painfully skinny girl with unkempt hair – both features that really hassled my mother. When I went to college, and was ready to taste more than just Mangalorean food, Mummy said that I must cook what I wanted to eat. And so, I did. I began with fancy food (in our house, at least) – pies, noodles, crumbles... all awful in the beginning; only Mohan, who was a bottomless pit of hunger at the time, could stomach all of them. I got better, thank goodness, and, somewhere along the next five years, discovered a book that taught me a whole lot about continental food – Niru Gupta’s Cook, My Dear. It has remained all these years, ingredient-stained, on my cookbook shelves...
Then, when Kevin, I and a really tiny Zach shifted back to Colaba when my parents made the big move to Mangalore, I had to cook every day. There is a limit to how much pasta and pie you can eat. My friend Aradhna’s mom, a wonderful lady, taught me how to cook dal – and how to cook it thick, freeze it in small portions, dilute it and temper it differently each day. Mrs Jyoti is no longer with us, but I will never forget her kindness in not laughing at someone who didn’t know how to cook something as simple as dal. And then, I found Niru Gupta’s other cookbook Everyday Indian. It is, again, another book with a lot of haldi stains.
I’ve tried to buy copies of Everyday Indian – unsuccessfully – quite often. It makes a perfect starter cookbook to gift. But recently, I went to Ms Gupta’s website, and wrote to her to ask if she had copies. No luck with Everyday Indian, but she had copies of Cook, My Dear in a new format, of which I promptly ordered three copies. Each cost Rs 145 and postage (about Rs 200) and if you’re looking for a good, plain cookbook of basics, you should do as I do.
I have cooked extensively from both books – and her recipes are idiot-proof and very beginner-friendly. Here is a simple French Onion Soup.

Niru Gupta’s French Onion Soup
from Cook, my Dear

250 g (2 cups sliced) onions
2 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
5 cups stock or 5 cups water and 4 soup cubes
¼ tsp powdered black pepper
1 slice bread, toasted
4 tbsp grated cheese

Slice the onions very fine. It is important that these are uniformly sliced, so that you get an even colour, otherwise some will scorch, while some will be white. A slicer is handy for this.
Heat butter and oil (oil is added to prevent butter from burning) in a heavy-based saucepan, and sauté the onions till they are a rich golden brown. You may start by sautéing over high heat, but lower it after a while.
Now add the stock or the water and soup cubes and bring it to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, prepare soup bowls. Cut the toast into four pieces. Place a piece in each bowl. Place a tablespoon of grated cheese over the toast.
Add the salt and pepper to the soup, and pour it into the prepared bowls. Serve hot.


PHOTOGRAPH: SARAH ROBSON/ DREAMSTIME.COM

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